Rwanda's journey to IT hub

Early this month, Rwanda signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Ericsson to facilitate the country’s vision of becoming an information and communications technology hub in the region.

Early this month, Rwanda signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Ericsson to facilitate the country’s vision of becoming an information and communications technology hub in the region.

The deal was sealed at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona by Youth and ICT minister Jean-Philbert Nsengimana, on behalf of the government of Rwanda, with communications giant Ericsson for broadband and internet services.

Under the deal, the Swedish firm will be tasked with upgrading infrastructure and services in areas such as e-government, healthcare, business and education as well as providing network security for government systems.

This development isn’t the first of its kind, government over the years has shown commitment to have the country achieve middle income status using ICT as a development tool, for instance this has been witnessed through its investment in rolling out a fibre optic backbone to all the 30 districts in the country and nine border posts, covering a total of 4,500 km.

Quite similarly, government has also helped establish technology incubation centres, with six already under its arm, one of the kind is kLab (knowledge Lab), a well facilitated centre which brings ICT innovators together, allowing them to explore ideas and share lessons.

People no longer have to physically appear at Rwanda Revenue Authority offices to pay taxes. This has been simplified by the introduction of an electronic payment system which saves time and money. Similarly, two years ago, the customs office introduced the Single Electronic Window System, an online facility that allows parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardized information and documents with a single entry point to fulfil all import, export, and transit-related regulatory requirements, hence reducing the cost of doing business.

In agriculture, the government understands that the largest part of the population depends on it, and introduced e-soko, an electronic product that enables farmers and traders to access information on agricultural products in markets.

The concept set a platform that helped do away with exploitation of farmers by middlemen. Now, they can be able to fix farm gate prices, aware of retail prices in the main markets, allowing farmers to take home a good portion of their hard earned income.

The service offered by all the three major mobile telecom operators (MTN, Tigo and Airtel) involves sending an SMS – at a cost of Rwf10 – to 7656 to receive information about a particular commodity.

On the health front, the percentage of health facilities with functional infrastructure (computer, Internet, including modems) has reached 84 percent. This allows the health facilities to timely access health information systems and medical records.

It’s about 10 months since the Ministry of Health started rolling out a new system of distributing medicines to various health facilities country wide. The web-based method called the Electronic Logistics Management Information System is out to cut red-tape and ensure more efficiency in as far as delivery of medicines to health units is concerned.

Now, all 42 district hospitals, 30 district pharmacies, five referral hospitals and over 400 health centres have been hooked onto the system, using passwords. Obviously, the paper-based format that was in use formerly was dotted with not only inaccuracies but delays too. Senior health official can attest to this.

With the electronic system, an officer at the ministry headquarters, for example, can know which district hospital or pharmacy is under or over stocked by simply logging onto the network.

All such efforts have seen the country not only transform lives of citizens, but also get global recognition as an ICT innovation haven.

However, a lot more has to been done if the country will ever become a complete ICT giant. For instance since electricity penetration in rural areas is still low, making the use of a conventional gadget hard, more off grid power sources like solar must be rolled out.

Also, since per capita income is still low in many parts of the country making it difficult to afford gadgets, applications, and internet. Government probably needs to subsidise some of those items if everybody will ever afford them.

Since illiteracy levels are still high especially in rural areas making it difficult to use some of those tech-products, government needs to partner with the private sector and civil society organisations to promote not only basic literacy but also the digital kind.